This film is a disastrous musical remake of the 1937 Frank Capra classic. When an uprising begins somewhere in Southern Asia a group of English speaking foreigners manage to escape the coup by flying off in a hijacked plane. We meet Richard Conway (Peter Finch), a British diplomat; George Conway (Michael York) Richard’s brother; Sam Cornelius (George Kennedy), an American; Harry Lovett (Bobby Van), a not so-funny comedian; and Sally Hughes (Sally Kellerman), a pill popping Newsweek reporter. No. We have not landed on another Airport movie, even though the film was produced by Ross Hunter of Airport fame. But as far as screen disasters go, Lost Horizon is the mother of them all. The first 30 minutes or so is an almost identical shot by shot remake of the original film and moves along well. Then the plane crashes in the Himalayas, our happy crew is rescued by a tribe led by Chan (Sir John Guielgud), an oriental who studied at Oxford (how convenient) and we arrive to Shangrila, a secluded lamasery hidden by the mountains. Chan describes Shangrila as a place where “the sun always shines and the air is blue”. From then on, the movie becomes a collection of corny melodramatic scenes, endless philosophy lectures, and yes, lots of silly musical numbers.
The music by Burt Bacharach is actually fairly memorable. At times it actually makes you forget the horribly inane and pedestrian lyrics by Hal David. “Share the Joy”, “The World is A Circle” and “Living Together” have decent hummable melodies and have become regular standards for the cabaret circuit through the years. But at times the lyrics are so irresistibly silly that it is hard not to pay attention. Sally Kellerman, overacting mostly with her long hair has two of the most pathetic musical numbers. In one classic moment she jumps, vamps and dances on a rock while singing to George Kennedy about “doing something for someone else, isn’t really for someone else, it does twice as much for you as just for yourself” (Ouchh!!!! It hurts my ears!). In which George Kennedy comes up with the brilliant idea to “Irrigate!” not Sally but Shangrila.
In another musical number Sally dances in a library with Maria (Olivia Hussey), another Shangrila local. This duet is simply hysterical. As they both declare in their song and dance routine of all of the things that they won’t miss , they stomp on desks, swing from library ladders and manage to redefine the concept of bad talent.
“The World is A Circle” musical number plays like a nightmarish version of “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. In this sequence Catherine (Liv Ullman), a Shangrila teacher sings to her students that “the world is a circle without a beginning, nobody knows where the circle ends”. So much for an education. But Liv Ullman is no Julie Andrews and her student’s are no Von Trapps. In this sequence, the uninspired Hermes Pan’s choreography comes across as an “Up With People” show intertwined with the worst dancing in Cleopatra, Mr. Pan’s other monumental flop. The children and Ms. Ullman struggle to stay synchronized as they wave their hands in unison, spin in circles and roll down a hill while dangerously bouncing their heads against each other. Never before has the choreography of any film been so ridiculed and despised as Mr. Pan’s work in Lost Horizon.
Liv Ullman cannot sing and neither does Peter Finch, for that matter. While having a picnic we learn about their growing affection as we hear their thoughts in song and we cringe at the horrible effect that these two untalented singing voices bring to this so call poignant moment.
Mr. Finch does not fare any better in the acting department. He almost outshines Sally Kellerman’s overacting via the reverse psychology of hardly acting. There are times that he just stares, hardly present on his scenes, with an occasional smile to remind us that he is getting paid for doing this.
Aside Mr. Bacharah’s tunes (excluding the lyrics), elaborate set design and the sight of the miniature model airplane crashing in the Himalaya’s a la Airport, everything else in Lost Horizon is truly lost. Now, if they would have brought Helen Hayes to play the High Lama, maybe that would have made a difference.
ADDED NOTE: This movie is not available in DVD or Video but on rare ocassions can be seen on pay TV. I was able to purchase a rare "unnoficial" transfer on widescreen format from lasedisc into DVD (with 3 added musical sequences that were edited out after its premiere) on EBay. I may not consider Lost Horizon high art either but is definitely one of those movies that are so bad that they become almost good (i.e. guilty pleasures). I urge you connoisseurs of bad cinema to find someone that has recorded it (as I did) and enjoy!!!